Wild Backyard, By Tyra A. Olstad
Scholars suggest that we don’t need to go to dusty, rabid, far-flung places – the deepest canyons, the highest mountains – to find wilderness; we merely need to learn how to recognize wildness in our backyards.
I, for one, wouldn’t know how to appreciate “urban wilderness” – how to watch for birds nesting on windowsills, listen for rain pattering on rooftops, or celebrate weeds that persevere up through cracks in the sidewalk – were it not for my time out in truly wild places. Each year, I spend eight or nine months living in a city, then, come May, pack up and head off to the desert or the prairie or the forest or the tundra – back to what I consider the “real world” and my “real life,” wherein I rove trails, scale cliffs, crawl caves, avoid moose, monitor lichen, and/or scour rock outcrops, looking for bones.
I am happy out there, in our national parks and forests. I am happy, working as a ranger or guide or paleontology technician – anything that gives me three or four months to soak up as much wildness as possible. I absolutely gorge on it, swallowing every berry, savoring every sunset as if I’ll never see or taste another again. Then, at the end of each season, I pack up and head off to town – back to places wholly occupied and modified by man, wherein I subsist on memories and dreams.
The challenge, then, for me and, more so, people who have not 3-4 months, but only 3-4 days, or hours, even, to see and taste and absorb every scenic view, is how to remember and recall what we’ve learned in the parks – how to keep a sense of wild exhilaration and appreciation alive. It helps to share photographs and stories (“That moose!,” I tell my grandmother, “It was so big!”), but the best way to learn is to internalize these places – let them sharpen our senses and stir our psyches. Parks aren’t for recreation; they’re for re-creation, re-membering, bringing our awareness back to the beauty and wonder of birds and rain and, yes, even weeds that we see on a daily basis.
Turn-of-the-20th-century wilderness advocate John Muir said it best (on the first page of the first chapter of Our National Parks):“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
The Hornet Rides Again, By Matthew Beaudin
Von Wilson, Matthew Beaudin’s step-father, takes a ride on a bike that’s been in the family for 15 years, and traveled from father to son to step father. (Photo by Matthew Beaudin)
Matthew is a staff writer for Velo magazine and VeloNews.com, where this column initially appeared.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO
The mechanic was visibly cynical about this machine and its ornaments, and perhaps rightfully so. It’s aging without the grace of classic steel, and it hasn’t been put to the Cat. 4 pastures and collegiate B races with the other carbon hand-me downs of its generation. He ticked off the laundry list of maladies: toasted chain, torched front rings, sagging cables.
He didn’t mention the worn yellow bar tape. He didn’t have to.
Services were arranged. Because this isn’t any 15-year old bike. This is the Hornet, an American-made machine of carbon and titanium that’s passed through my family to riders of varied states of ability and purpose.
It took the name of the Hornet for obvious reasons. A yellow front triangle, and some lamentable yellow tape my mechanic and friend found in the Telluride Free Box — a bin for outcast objects, one last chance before the dumpster.
It began its life as something I coveted immensely. A Douglas, painted in my father’s team colors for a club that’s gone the way of the dumpster itself, the Garden of the Gods Breakfast Club, out of Colorado Springs, it even had my father’s name painted on the top tube: “Chris Beaudin,” in silver upon a blue streak.
He raced it for a few years, and then relegated it to the trainer bike, where he talked to the top tube and to himself, as we all do when we ride both indoors and out.
It was eventually passed to me to ride in Telluride’s shoulder seasons, which are more like plateaus, and I rode it from time to time, more a flirtation with fitness for the trails than anything else. I think our third ride together was some 130 miles from Telluride to Moab in a charity ride in which I flatted on the first descent out of town, was dropped by the large group and rode 80 or so miles alone, just me and the Douglas, until I found a friend in Paradox Valley who’d promised to stay with me about 10 hours prior. We came to know each other that day, the bike and I.
But mostly, it sat unloved underneath my stairs, collecting dust on its ever-still cranks and once-coveted silver Mavic wheels. If a bike could cry, it would have. There’s no telling what it thought of me, though I’m certain it protested my inability to descend. The fact that people were able to ride 60 miles per hour on only suggestions of tires shocked me.
But last spring, when I took this job, I began to ride it, trying to stuff my eyes and legs with the language of the road. I’d been a mountain biker only, and lacked the literacy of the road. I was a fan and spectator of racing, but never anything more.
Slowly, I began to speak it. First in the lower back agony of a road rookie, then in timid descents, and slow progressions stalled by overestimations of my ability.
The Douglas never protested to these injustices, having gone from my father’s skilled hands to my bumbling newness, its only trepidations voiced in a creaky bottom bracket, or cables that had seemed to turn from metal braids to elastic bands.
I took care of it. My friend Max added yellow tape to its mélange of color last spring, and the Hornet was born. I showed up in Boulder with it — a kid on his first day at school in old clothes — but I threw it into the mountains here nonetheless. Its days were numbered in Boulder and we both knew it. I had a bike built for me by Independent Fabrication, a dream I’d had for sometime.
The Hornet returned to its yellow and blue still life, leaning against a wall in semi-permanence, its tires leaking their secrets over months, its stem still turned slightly upward, an imagined turning up of its nose at me and the Indy Fab, white as a cue ball. What the Hornet had in misguided color, the Indy had in understated elegance and a flawless new Dura-Ace group.
The Hornet had come to the end of its second chance, and its days on the road paused. And for once, the bottom bracket was actually silent.
But there was a need for it. My stepfather lives in Steamboat Springs and had never really ridden a road bike through the country he’s from, and one where snow often keeps the trails draped underneath winter’s modesty longer than it should. I asked my father if my pop — I’ve always called him pop — could adopt the Hornet, to see if he liked the road.
Eventually, the Hornet made its way north from Boulder to Steamboat. I breathed air back into its tires in the sunny backyard a few weeks ago; the dogs hung their heads in the way dogs of cyclists do, while the machine came back to life.
We made it out onto Steamboat’s ribbons of asphalt through the patchwork farms and yawning valleys of northwestern Colorado. The land here holds you inside of it, and doesn’t attempt to repel you as other parts of Colorado’s mountains do.
In our first road ride together, pop tucked right behind me, and I pulled him the 20 miles to Clark and back. Two days later, we took to a road that drops behind town and moves up and down with the gentle pace of a slow conversation.
I was happy to share the roads and a bike with someone who’d shared so much of life with me, and I was happy that in some way my father was there, too. We’re a family that even in fracture has grown stronger over time. The bike passed between us is only a bike, it’s true, but it’s one stitch that connects us further, as family and as riders.
A week ago, my pop sent me a picture of the bike draped over a mailbox out by the old red schoolhouse, 10 or so empty miles from town. “Buzzin like a Hornet thanks” was all he said. A few days later, another photo, this time farther from home, complete with time for the out and back.
He’s well on his way now, the yellow Douglas teaching him the prose of the road, one ride at a time. It has fresh, black tape and a new chain now, and is ready for another five years of time in the spring and fall. I suppose it is now to me as all things eventually become to all of us: better than it ever really was, gleaming in the alpenglow of memory.
But that’s no matter, how I recall it.
Because, finally, the Hornet rides again.
Wrights Station, 100 year comparison
Nestled amid the Santa Cruz Mountains, a stones throw from Silicon Valley but well-hidden by the redwood forests, you can find the remains of a historic rail corridor, built by the Southern Pacific Railroad in the 1880s. I set out to see what remained of these historic towns and the forgotten infrastructure that once connected them.
Tales from the Cabin Fever Expo by Mike Piersa
Every spring, model engineers across America emerge from their basement workshops and show off their latest creations at the Cabin Fever Expo in York, PA. Home machinists, backyard foundrymen, and industrial artisans display miniature engines and machinery that often required hundreds of hours to create. The most enthralling models are those that recreate the long lost and legendary machines of the Victorian era. Jerry Pontius, of Deadwood, South Dakota, exhibited his operating model of the steam powered Ransome Tree Feller. In the 1870s, half a century before the modern chainsaw, this British built reciprocating saw was used around the world.
The machine and a crew of four men did the work of thirty axe wielding lumberjacks. It could fell a tree three feet in diameter in less than five minutes, cutting it almost at ground level and thus preserving large chunks of tree that otherwise “would be cut into chips if felled by the axe.” The saw ran off of steam supplied by a three horsepower boiler which must have burned scrap wood from the timbering operation. If not for this model, which could almost fit on the head of an axe, this once remarkable machine would have been forgotten, lost in time beyond the living memory of both the lumberman and engineer.
Project & Photos by Mike Piersa, Historian, National Museum of Industrial History, Bethlehem, PA.
Bio: Mike Piersa is an industrial historian whose vast knowledge base and hands-on philosophy has enabled him and his volunteer crews to preserve over 250 tons of steam-era machinery from mining, transportation, and manufacturing facilities across the northeast. Mike looks forward to every day, which could find him researching papers discovered in dusty attics, interviewing retired engineers, restoring century old machines, or being immersed in a cloud of steam from one of the many stationary engines he works with.